Here is another question we get quite a bit. What led you to write this book in particular?
Over the years my discomfort with the American funeral industry led me to explore burial in an Orthodox Christian context. Clearly, it is an important part of life and we want to do it right. To my surprise, I had accumulated a good amount of information on traditional Christian burial. One day I mentioned this to Fr. John Parker and half joking, told him to find a seminarian in need of a thesis and I’d turn my files over to him to write a book. He said, “No, you do it.” “A Christian Ending” started out as a simple instruction manual for preparing a body for burial.
The first draft was simply a step by step, hands-on description of how to prepare a body for burial. We wrote it specifically for Orthodox Christians and therefore took a lot of basic Christian knowledge for granted. Our later experiences led us to include information on legal matters, dealing with the coroner, hospitals and nursing homes and mobilizing parishioners to help. Later we included some short chapters on the evolution of funerals. Realizing that natural burial is becoming popular with the New-age and Green folks, we added a chapter of some basic theology for the non-Orthodox or non-Christian reader as a form of outreach.
The first opportunity we had to use our own instruction manual was for a dear friend and parishioner who died unexpectedly. It was a great shock to us all. We went to the morgue to prepare his body and everything went “by the book.” Everyone involved with that first “in-house” funeral was so touched by it that we knew we would continue.
Another thing really struck me. The director of the Medical University morgue told me as we were leaving, “We’ve had Muslims, Hindus and Buddhists in here. You’re the first Christians.” That struck me as very sad. “You’re the first Christians.” We of all people, the people of the Cross and the martyrs, have not been taking care of our own departed brethren in an intimate, traditional way as other cultures and religions do. What kind of witness is that?
During the preparation procedure we had been reading selections from the psalms, so we developed a small service of prayers and readings to use specifically during the preparation of the body for burial. The readings are typically last about as long as the preparation and were included in the book for ease of use.
The book was not written for profit or notoriety, but simply to make what we have learned available to the Church and any others who are interested. To us it just makes sense that we should render this final service to our beloved brothers and sisters in Christ. We have done this for friends, family and complete strangers. We have also trained other people. People we would never expect have insisted on preparing their loved ones themselves. Everyone who has been involved has been touched and greatly moved by the power and simplicity of this simple service.